"Now, therefore, I, Gerald R. Ford, President of the United States, pursuant to the pardon power conferred upon me by Article II, Section 2, of the Constitution, have granted and by these presents do grant a full, free and absolute pardon unto Richard Nixon for all offenses against the United States which he, Rich ard Nixon, has committed or may have committed or taken part in during the period from January 20, 1969, through Au gust 9, 1974."
With these words, spoken in a slightly nervous voice to a small group of reporters who had been hastily summoned to the White House on Sunday morning, President Ford pardoned the anguished man whom he had succeeded only 30 days before. As a result, Richard Nixon no longer faces the threat of indictment, prosecution and even prison on federal charges arising from the still-festering Watergate scandal. Given the disclosure in the White House tapes that he had tried to cover up the Watergate burglary ever since June 23, 1972, he had faced the serious possibility of being charged with obstructing justice. For other acts while President, he had also faced federal indictment for tax fraud and possibly for misuse of Government funds for his private homes and violation of the rights of Daniel Ellsberg and his former psychiatrist, Lewis Fielding.
From his estate in San Clemente, Nixon issued a statement conceding no guilt but expressing remorse over "my mistakes over Watergate." And, he said, "One thing I can see clearly now is that I was wrong in not acting more decisively and more forthrightly in dealing with Watergate."
Ford explained that he acted, in part, out of compassion (see box page 12).
More than that, the President added, the "serious allegations and accusations hang like a sword over our former President's head and threaten his health as he tries to reshape his life." Most important, Ford hoped that the pardon would help heal the nation. Any move to bring Nixon to trial, the President noted, would have taken many months or years. During that period "ugly passions would again be aroused, our people would again be polarized in their opinions, and the credibility of our free institutions of Government would again be challenged at home and abroad."
But no sooner had Ford made his broadcast remarks than the nation —which had been caught totally by surprise—was plunged anew into deep and divisive debate. Republicans generally applauded the President's action; Democrats generally condemned it (see following story). Supporters agreed with Ford that his predecessor had indeed "suffered enough." Critics, including many legal experts, charged that Ford had established a dual system of justice, that he had put Richard Nixon above the law. On all sides, there were grave questions about the ways in which the pardon would affect the men currently jailed or awaiting trial for Watergate-related offenses (see story page 19). Said John J. Wilson, counsel for one of the six men who are scheduled to go on trial in Washington on Sept. 30 on charges of conspiring to cover up the Watergate burglary: "Bob Haldeman should be pardoned too."